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Stars: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, and Gus Lewis
Director: Christopher Nolan
Scriptwriter: David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan based on the character from DC Comics created by Bob Kane
Music: Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard
Running Time: two hours and 20 minutes
Rating: PG 13
Web site: www.batmanbegins.com
Comic book fans of the Caped Crusader can rest a bit easier. Christian Bale (“American Psycho”) is a fit as the new Batman and this film; Batman Begins shows us the origins of his bat skills. We see the foundations of the Wayne financial empire, Wayne Manor, faithful butler (Michael Caine), rising friendly police official (an unrecognizable Gary Oldman), Bruce’s childhood friend (Katie Holmes minus Tom Cruise), and the beginning of a league of criminal masterminds (none of whom will win, of course) starting with Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy.) Director and co-scriptwriter Christopher Nolan (Momento) has really done it with a darkened view of Bruce Wayne’s life and what the search for revenge can do to someone’s psyche. We also see why the bat was chosen as a symbol and not an eagle, hawk or ferret.
The film begins in a far Eastern prison where Bruce Wayne is systematically beaten. In fact, many times, he is systematically beaten and though bruises are shown, the guy should have been shoe leather by now. Enter Liam Neeson as a martial arts expert who invites Bruce to join the League of Shadows, which is a sort of vigilante group. Then come many scenes of fights including one on an ice-covered lake. The motives of this League become clear. Soon, Bruce Wayne (who had run from responsibility) is back in Gotham City running the Wayne Empire. Flashbacks show us that he, as a child (wonderfully played by Gus Lewis) was traumatized by bats and that he also saw his parents killed in a street robbery. Katie Holmes hung around Wayne Manor as a young friend, but in adulthood is a prosecuting attorney who carries a taser. Morgan Freeman comes on board as an eccentric inventor (think of the James Bond series here) and the Batmobile turns out to be a honey of a Hummer. We see Batman form his costume, weapons and the beginning of a bat cave for work-related things. His other persona is a playboy, though here, Bale doesn’t seem quite at home. You wonder if he would know a tapestry from a drape. The criminal is a psychiatrist (Cillian Murphy) with gaseous drugs in a burlap hood and you wonder if he inhaled too much of it himself. Murphy was supposed to poison Gotham’s water supply, but then, we find out, Scarecrow works for (gasp) someone else!
The special effects are amazing. My favorite is the elevated train ride that looks like something from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Racing trains are the fashion now since Spider-Man had one, too, and even Men in Black II, though they were chased by a worm. There are car chases, roof top chases and fire chases. This is not a film for children, comic book fans though they may be. A child witnesses murder and then encounters bats. Now bats in general get a bad rap around the country and the adage still stands, if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone, sort of a Bat Creed. In Batman Begins, there are a multitude of bats but no one complains of a bite. That’s Bram Stoker’s territory, not Bob Kane. Much of the film was shot in darkness and granted, that is where Batman works, but in those particular fight scenes, it would be good to be able to tell who is hitting whom. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard is dark and clanky, much like The Lord of the Rings music. No Danny Elfman themes here.
Christian Bale, who lost 60 pounds to play The Machinist and then gained over 80 pounds for Batman Begins, must have a body of steel. His portrayal of the moody Bruce Wayne is fine and, as in Robocop, all you need to see are the jaw muscles working as the costume hides everything else. Michael Caine is the suave butler, Alfred, and Gary Oldman makes an effective Gordon of the police department. Katie Holmes is window dressing and looks too young to be an attorney in this crime league. She does have an effective scene with her taser, though. Liam Neeson trains Bruce Wayne in martial arts, but he also indulges in psychobabble that puts the audience in a schoolroom mode rather than a movie theater. Enough. We know what is going on.
I think the bat series will continue and with Christian Bale as the new Batman. Personally, I thought Michael Keaton was great, too and who can forget Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman? Just remember, Scarecrow worked for someone. Hmmmm.
Copyright 2005 Marie Asner
Batman Begins restarts and reinvigorates the Batman legend just as effectively as the mid and late '90’s entries muddied and destroyed it. Gone is the campy, slipshod gothic demeanor of those films; in its place is a Batman of substance. We care a lot more about this films’ Bruce Wayne than we do any of the others before the character is given flesh and blood and genuine motivation, much more akin to the dark comic books than the silly TV shows.
A traumatic childhood experience explains his connection with bats. The kind and giving personas of his mother and father, their devotion to the betterment of Gotham, and their subsequent murders reveals why Bruce is willing to go to any length to carry on their legacy, and why he has so much pent up resentment and anger. He receives training in the highlands of an unnamed country from the secretive and twisted League of Shadows, whose dark purposes Bruce soon realizes and flees from. He returns to Gotham to find his family’s business mirroring the rest of the city--growing more corrupted each day. After turning to the help of Luscious Fox, a brilliant and golden-hearted scientist whose position is being swept under the rug by the Wayne business’ honchos, Bruce obtains the proper tools and get-up to take the law into his own hands.
Director Christopher Nolan has taken a very careful and serious approach to the Batman legacy. We don’t actually see Bruce Wayne emerge as Batman until the second half of the film. We’re given a great deal of character and setting development in the first hour as the pieces and mystery of the Batman origin are slowly unveiled. Emotional tension is allowed to build; while most of us will never go to such a length as to don kevlar superhero suits and commandeer rocket-armed mini-tanks to kill our fears and satisfy our personal goals, we can still connect with and understand Bruce Wayne’s decision to take the route he chooses to follow.
This focus on the seriousness of the Dark Knight’s legend actually works as better entertainment than any of the sillier incarnations. Action scenes are close-up, gritty, and exciting, with a surprising lack of actual CG animation, given the age we live in. Gotham looks incredible- soaring yet seedy cityscapes that evoke both gaping wonder and purposeful abhorrence.
Many of the villains of Batman Begins do not enter until later in the film as well. In fact, their whole part in this movie, including the evil scheme that sets up the epic climax, feels almost second-fiddle to the actual development of Batman’s character himself. Though slightly undermined, their parts are still well directed and impacting, working well as a true first test for our caped-crusaders’ debut foray.
“Fear will keep them in line,” as Grand Moff Tarkin so eloquently dictated aboard the Death Star in the original Star Wars. The same philosophical musing applies here, except this time it’s the hero that utilizes said emotion as a weapon against the corrupt. The first action sequence debuting Bruce Wayne as Batman is a work of wonder, despite having seen it done so many times before. A gang of drug-thugs do their dirty work in the middle of the night. A flutter over their heads. Slightly apprehensive glances are exchanged. Suddenly, a scout is snatched away. More tension amongst the crew on the ground. They begin to raise their weapons. Another is swept away. And another. Panic ensues. The baddies freak, and they begin to cluster together. With almost no warning, Batman drops right into the middle of them, and before you can say “Billowing Backpacks, Radioactive Man!,” the entire crew is laying slopped all over the floor. Awesome.
Batman Begins may be the most believable comic book adaptation to ever grace the silver screen, yet it also works as wonderful entertainment. It’s exciting, it’s riveting, and best of all, the campiness of the Bat films of yore is entirely absent. This is a new beginning for the Batman legend on film, and if it continues with this same level of intensity and quality, it could be the best comic series we’ve seen yet.
Jonathan Avants 7/10/05